Smithsonian Grand Challenge Consortia

The Smithsonian Consortia help foster a spirit of interdisciplinary collaboration to stimulate intellectual exchange within the Smithsonian and beyond. They incubate, develop and launch collaborations that along with our museums, research centers and programs, address our Strategic Plan's four Grand Challenges: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Universe, Understanding and Sustaining a Biodiverse Planet, Valuing World Cultures, and Understanding the American Experience.

For more information on all four challenges, see the Smithsonian Institution's Grand Challenges Consortia web page. While SAO staff may be involved in any of the four consortia, "Unlocking the Mysteries of the Universe" is of particular interest.

Consortium for Unlocking the Mysteries of the Universe

The Smithsonian has played a fundamental role in understanding the nature of the Universe, dark matter, galaxy formation, planetary systems and extreme explosive phenomena. With support from a broad range of government and private organizations, the Consortium will undertake integrative research using next generation technologies focused on questions that will include: the nature of dark matter and dark energy; the formation and evolution of planets, stars, galaxies, and clusters of galaxies; and space, matter, and time in the extreme environments of exploding stars, neutron stars and near black holes. Results of our research and explorations will be disseminated to scholars as well as the public and connected to our artistic and cultural endeavors.

Christine Jones, Consortium Director

Christine Jones has worked as an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics since 1978. In addition to her work at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, she is a lecturer at Harvard University. She has been the recipient of several honors and awards that include the Nininger Meteorite Award (1970); NASA Group Achievement Award for HEAO-2 X-ray Calibration Team (1978); Harvard Bart J. Bok Prize (1979); NASA Group Achievement Award (1980); AAS-HEAD Bruno Rossi Prize (1985); NASA Group Achievement Award (1991); Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science (1995); NASA Group Achievement Award (2000); NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal (2000); Marcel Grossmann Individual Award (2009); and Honorary Fellow, Royal Astronomical Society (2011). She was Vice-President of the American Astronomical Society (2008-2011) and President of Division XI, International Astronomical Union (2009-2012). Dr. Jones received her bachelor's degree from Harvard and Radcliffe Colleges in 1971 and her master's and doctorate degrees from Harvard University in 1972 and 1974 respectively.

Smithsonian Grand Challenges Awards

Smithsonian Grand Challenges Awards -- a competitive, internal granting program -- advance cross-disciplinary, integrated scholarly efforts across the Institution which relate to the Smithsonian Grand Challenge Unlocking the Mysteries of the Universe. These awards encourage Smithsonian staff to advance research, as well as broaden access, revitalize education, strengthen collections and encourage new ways of thinking that involve emerging technology.

Grand Challenges grants are awarded through the Smithsonian Consortia at two distinct levels:

Level One grants provide seed money to develop groups around promising concepts. Successful proposals at Level One provide the time and incentive for individuals with common interests to meet and crystallize ideas for major interdisciplinary/pan-Institutional projects. These projects are intended to be short in duration (6-12 months) and focused in purpose, such as support for arranging seminars, workshops, meetings, and brown-bag lunches.

Level Two grants are larger and aimed at maturing groups poised to confront relevant issues and prepared to secure external funding. Applicants apply for Level Two funding to conduct preliminary experiments, write a position paper, explore the design of an exhibition, conduct preparatory work for a major project or produce other evidence of scholarly capacity that is deemed essential for external competition. Successful proposals at Level Two provide a group that has defined a common goal with the resources they need to establish themselves as credible competitors for external funding. Applicants for Level Two funding may already have a collaborative history or may be building on the outcome of a successful Level One process.

The Smithsonian Consortia are funded through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The grant supports the four grand challenges of the Smithsonian Institution's Strategic Plan, enables the Institution to organize itself in a way that will achieve significant results in each area, and provides competitive grants to Smithsonian staff who submit creative interdisciplinary ideas.

CfA staff interested in learning more about the award process, should see the internal page 2014 Smithsonian Grand Challenges Awards.